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Mr. Vinely looks at me from his big, ugly, brown chair, glaring at me. I have learned from experience that picturing that big, ugly, brown chair eating him up makes him a lot less intimidating.
“Amanda, why do we keep having this discussion?”
Mom always tells that when you are already in a bad situation, don’t make it worse, so I just shrug.
“Why, why, in the world, would you throw a pencil a Mrs. Cosseny?” he asked me. “I know your father left, but that was a while ago…”
“Stop!” I say sternly, and he quiets down. It isn’t the fact that my father left, I have accepted that. It is my mother who was upset. I am just angry that everyone blames my bad behavior on it. That is not the reason. I can’t really explain it; I just do things, bad things, not really on purpose.
Like last week, I was in the cafeteria, just eating my lunch, and I saw “Stubby” Kevin Rolanos walking down the aisle to his lunch table, holding a huge bowl of tomato soup. The next thing I knew, I was talking to Mr. Vinely once again, and Kevin was in the nurse’s office trying to get the red stains out of his shirt.
Mr. Vinely is what my mother would call a handsome Southern man. He speaks with such a thick Southern accent that sometimes, I can hardly understand him. Mom always comments on him when she comes to my school funcutions, and if he ever talks to her, her face lights up and turns red. But lately, she has had to talk to him quite a lot, due to my behavior. Those are the kinds of conversations she doesn’t like, even if they are with Mr. Vinely.
In his office, he doesn’t yell, he just stares at me, and looks in his large folder, filled with stuff about me. I don’t like to be examined; it makes me feel like an animal in a zoo. But this is not even the worst part. Because after he has finished talking to me, he will call Mom.
She has to miss work to come, and when she walks in in her “Lisa’s Florist” tee-shirt, she doesn’t even look at me, just passes by with this weird, sad face that makes you want to cry. They talk for about ten minutes, then they both come out, and Mr. Vinely tells me to collect my stuff. I walk through the halls to my locker, and if younger students come by, they whisper to each other stuff like, “There’s the bad girl,” or “There’s the girl whose daddy left her.” I hear these things every day, but they still sting. And the thing is, I am not a bad girl. But the other one is true. My daddy did leave me.
Most times when I’m in the car with Mom, country music is blasting. Usually Shania Twain. My mom loves Shania. But on these car rides, the whole car is silent. And when we come to a red light, Mom puts her head down on the steering wheel, and just lays there, until she has to drive again.
On this day, it was all routine. When we got to our house, I grab my bag, take the mail from our old rooster mailbox, and run behind our house, to the swing Dad built for me when I was four. It is in the greatest place in the world. You can see everything from it, but no one can see you. I sat down, gently swinging myself back and forth. I sift through the mail, till I find the thing I am looking for. It is a tan envelope, and the stamp has the picture of a beautiful sunset, the kind we don’t have in New Hampshire. The envelope is addressed to me, Amanda Willows, and the return address is from Henry Willows, my father. It read;
Hi lovely! I miss you so much. I think about you and your mother all the time. I am terribly sorry I haven’t written in a few weeks, the potential job has kept me busy. California is not as wonderful as New Hampshire, but it will do. The job I told you about for the gallery didn’t work out, but there is always next time. I wish you could come visit me, but I know your mother would never go for that. How is your school? Do you like 7th grade? Please write back. Tell your mother once again, I am so sorry.
I love you.
I wish I could tell Mom that Dad was sorry, so that things could go back to the way they were, but Mom doesn’t even know that I am writing to Dad. She would not allow it if she did. Especially the way she reacted to the first letter.
When the letter first arrived, it was addressed to me and Mom. When she saw it, she started screaming, saying how he couldn’t expect us to just let him back into our lives after he walked out on us. I was just sitting at the kitchen table listening to her yell and scream to no one in particular. Then she just opened the trash can and put it in, then slammed it shut.
Later that night, when Mom was asleep, I snuck downstairs and took the letter from the trash. I brought it up to my room, and read it under my covers with a flashlight. It was filled with “I’m sorry,” and “I miss you.” I kept it in a special box that I made in art class in 4th grade, and then, the next day, I wrote back. The next letter came about ten days after the first one. I keep all of the letters in that special box, and then I hide it under my bed.
This letter is the fifth letter I have received. The return address is written on the envelope, so I know he wants me to write back. I write him a letter, which sounds stiff and cold, because I didn’t know what to say to him. I can’t tell him about school, because he would think it is his fault I am acting up. Which it is not, not like everyone thinks it is. I know he will be disappointed when he gets the letter, but it is the only way I can write to him right now. What I really want to ask him is the important questions, like, “Why did you leave us?” and “Why can’t you come home”? But these are not the kinds of questions I can ask.
The whole house is silent; I don’t know where Mom is, she is probably back at the store. For some reason, I have an overwhelming urge to cry. I haven’t cried since D.L. Day; Dad Leaves Day, and I don’t plan on crying today.
I look out my window and hear the birds chirp, which always calms me down. My grandma says that the Willows are always beautiful and love nature, just like the willow tree. My mom and father both fit this description, beautiful and love nature, but only the second one applies to me. My mother always tell me that I am pretty, but mothers have to say that. Finally, the mood passes, and I feel fine. I go put the letter in the mailbox, and then put the mail on the kitchen table.
I start my homework, but then I don’t feel like finishing it, so I go visit Mr. Humbleton. Mr. Humbleton is our next door neighbor. He is about 80 years old, and one of the most interesting people I have ever met. His whole family thinks he is senile, and they always beg him to go live with them. But, he wants to keep living in the country, not with some “city slickers,” as he calls his relatives. The truth is, he is not crazy at all; in fact, he is the most levelheaded person I know.
His house is tucked away, so that you could never see it. But, I have made a path from my house to his. It is a small little cottage, with ivy growing up the sides. He told me that his wife had always dreamed of growing up in a house with ivy growing up the sides. She said it meant that there was warmth and love in the house. Mr. Humbleton’s wife died about eight years ago, and he has always kept the ivy growing. He says that if he let it die, it would be like forgetting his wife.
When I get to his house, I knock our secret knock, three knocks, then a bird whistle. He comes to the door almost immediately, and salutes me. I salute back.
“Come in, come in, Amanda,” he says with that great, low voice of his.
“Hi, Mr. Humbleton,” I answer.
We walk into his sunroom, the best room in the house. It is covered from the floor to the ceiling in windows. Sunlight streams in, and we sit down on his couch. There is a platter of grapes on the coffee table in front of us, and he offers me some.
“Well, well, well,” he says.
“Why are we home so early from school?”, he asks me.
I sigh and say, “I threw a pencil at my teacher.”
He looks at me and laughs. I smile and begin to laugh, as well.
“Oh, my dear, I could tell you stories!” Mr. Humbleton says with a smile.
“Could you?” I ask.
He sighs and says, “Well, Amanda, I suppose I could, but don’t get any ideas. Your mother would never forgive me.”
Then he begins to tell me about the time he turned all the clocks in his school to the wrong time, and they got out of school at 10:30 that day. We are doubled over in laughter by the time I look at the clock and realize that Mom will be home soon. I thank Mr. Humbleton, and leave after I promise to behave in school, and to come over tomorrow.
I walk the path home, looking at all the different plants my father had taught me to identify. When I get home, I have spotted nine plants I recognize. I walk on our lawn and I see Mom’s car in front of our house.
I race into the house to tell Mom that I’m fine, and I see her at the kitchen counter making dinner.
“I’m sorry Mom, I was just at Mr. Humbleton’s house,” I say.
She doesn’t look up, just keeps cooking.
“Mom, I’m home.” I say louder.
Still she does nothing.
I go up and tap her in the shoulder. She looks up, and gives me a dirty look.
“I heard.” she says.
I stare at her. Who is this woman? My mom is always so kind. Even when I get in trouble, she is only mad for the car ride home, then she usually forgets about it. I sit down at the kitchen table and just stare at her. Finally, she gets the chicken ready and puts it on the table. She doesn’t even look at me.
I take my food and then eat it quietly. Mom just looks at her food, then angrily starts eating it. There is a strange silence at the table, the kind there never is with my mother.
Finally I say, “Mom, what is the matter? Why are you acting so strangely?”
“No reason,” she says.
I keep eating, and when I’m finished, I clean up the table. I go upstairs to my room, just to get away from her. I rack my brain for something I have done, something to make her this mad. I can’t think of anything to make her so upset, so I go downstairs once again.
My mom is cleaning the plates, with her back turned to me. I walk in and say, “Mom, please tell me what is going on!”
She looks up at me and says, “ Imagine my surprise when I got home this afternoon, and found this in the mailbox,” holding up my letter to Dad. Dread fills my body.
“Oh… oh.. Mom… you weren’t….I’m sorry Mom,” I say. Tears begin to roll down my cheeks.
She stares at me and says, “Why would you keep this from me! And after I specifically told you not to talk to him! Why...why, I’m at a loss for words!”
She sits down at the table and starts crying. I look at her and she says,
“I just…Just can’t believe how… how stupid I was… not to see this coming. To isolate you from your father. I should have… should have never cut you two off like that….”
“No Mom! I’m sorry! I know you didn’t wanted me not to talk to Dad but, but…. I’m so sorry!” By now the tears are coming harder. Mom is crying now, too.
“Sweetie, I want you to talk to your father. I was just scared that he would hurt you again. Just because I don’t want him in my life, doesn’t mean he can’t be in yours. And, and I’m sorry,” she says.
We hug and I whisper, “I’m sorry, Mom.”
There is silence for about two more minutes. Then we let go of each other.
“Amanda, you can call your father if you want. His number is on the caller ID.”
“No thanks, Mom. Not yet.”
She smiles at me and mouths, “Thanks.”
The next day, I wake up feeling refreshed. It feels good not to have to hide anything from my mother. I go to my big, oak desk and take out a card. Then, I begin to write the letter I‘ve been wanting to write:
Why did you leave us?………
Then I address it and put it in the envelop, and put it in my special box for another time.